After seeing the damage caused by tillage on his home farm in Austria, Eduard Zehetner decided to try no-till on his Hensall, Ontario, farm in the early 1990s. While he was able to make no-till soybeans and winter wheat work, no-till corn was a struggle.
He then tried strip-tilled corn for several years, but his son, Stefan, says it was also a struggle. Back then they didn’t have GPS so in the spring they had a difficult time finding the fall strips. It was a shank-type strip-till unit, which worked in spring on their loam soils but smeared their heavy clay soils.
So the Zehetners then moved to minimum-tilled corn, which is what they’re still doing today.
“That’s where we’re at right now,” Stefan says. “Really shallow tillage ahead of corn just to get it warmed up a little bit and plant into that.”
Now with RTK technology and coulter-style strip-till units available, the Zehetners say strip-till would probably work on their farm, but are hoping to be able to skip this step on their quest of becoming 100% no-till.
“We’re planting right on the edge of the berm — we tried it again this year and it’s not really ideal,” Stefan says. “Side by side data only showed a 3- to 4-bushel-per-acre advantage between strip-till and no-till in to soybean stubble, but it was a very dry spring.”
The Zehetners have been using a Vaderstad disc, which works the top inch of soil like vertical tillage. Stefan says this warms up the soil enough, but he’s still able to plant his corn in untouched soil. In 2017, he’s looking to use his John Deere no-till drill to seed covers, apply fertilizer and serve as his “tillage” pass so he can get closer to no-tilling corn.
Turning to Twin Rows
The Zehetners adopted a twin-row system for corn 5 years ago. They had been seeding soybeans in twin rows with their drill for several years, but decided it was time to start planting them.
Using a Kinze planter, the Zehetners like the twin rows because of how they spread out the plants and give the roots room to grow.
“If my planter’s not planting as accurately as it should be, it doesn’t seem to matter as much because my seeds are already so far apart from one another,” Stefan explains.
He is impressed with the accuracy of the Kinze finger unit, which is likely because the meters are turning much slower than they would in 30” rows.
The Zehetners haven’t done any side-by-sides to see how the twin rows may be paying off, but Stefan notes his neighbor did trials years ago when first switching over and never found a yield disadvantage. In some years, he’s seen yields up to 20 bushels better than single-row corn.
Another benefit the Zehetners have witnessed from twin-row corn is that the plants “stand like a tree in the fall,” Stefan says.
“We can leave it a lot longer in the field if we need to and it keeps standing, so that’s been a big advantage too, especially when snow comes early.”